Effective even when neglected: Farmer groups and the diffusion of agroforestry innovations in rural communities of Eastern Africa

Published on November 17, 2008 | Author: Dietrich Darr

The purpose of the current dissertation is to explore the contribution of development-oriented farmer groups to the diffusion of innovations in rural communities of Kenya and Ethiopia, to identify the key factors that determine the effectiveness of diffusion, and to derive recommendations that aim at better utilizing the potential of groups for rural extension work.

A profound review of four theoretical frameworks served to derive a multiple-pathway model of innovation diffusion that amalgamates major concepts of the social network and functional group theory. By accommodating multiplex social relationships and by facilitating analyses at multiple levels the model alleviates major conceptual shortcomings of previous research.

The research employs a multiple case study design. Four peasant communities have been investigated that are largely comparable in respect with bio-physical conditions. The case studies aim to cover the maximum diversity with regard to the role of farmer groups in the prevailing extension approach, as well as the mode of group organization.

Data collection tools comprise reconnaissance surveys, standardized household interviews (N=841), qualitative key informant and in-depth interviews, participant observation, and the review of secondary sources. Group and non-group social networks constitute the units of analysis. Inferential statistical analyses mainly used multivariate linear regression techniques.

The findings illustrate that farmers, through their group and non-group networks and under group-oriented and individual extension alike, exchange information, knowledge, social pressures and other forms of influence that shape their individual adoption decisions. Yet, innovations tend to disseminate more effectively in farmer groups vis-à-vis non-group networks, and the groups tend to be more effective when addressed by extension agents.
Lack of access to extension services represents a crucial limitation to innovation adoption in the study villages. Yet, increased extension intensity has proved to foster innovation diffusion only in situations of group extension, whereas intensified individual extension services do not considerably increase horizontal farmer-to-farmer knowledge exchange.

The research reveals that the advantage of farmer groups can be attributed to their dimorphic character combining the bridging and bonding effects of ‘weak’ and ‘strong’ ties. By facilitating the emergence of cohesive relationships among the group members and by simultaneously enhancing the members’ exposure to external information sources group-oriented extension work considerably contributes to foster the diffusion of innovations among farmers.

Intermediate absolute levels of group homogeneity best facilitate the diffusion of innovations among the group members. The findings suggest that increased group activity can overcome diffusion barriers that arise from too heterogeneous or too homogeneous configurations alike.

Member commitment is the group climate dimension most consistently related to diffusion effectiveness in farmer groups. The results suggest that group-oriented extension services can alleviate obstructions of the diffusion process that result from less favorable group climate.

Thus, this research work proposes that the effectiveness of innovation diffusion among farmers is under the managerial control of the extension agencies in group-oriented extension approaches through at least one of the following mechanisms: (a) promoting the emergence of cohesive member relationships, which in turn foster effective innovation spread; (b) stimulating the activity of farmer groups, which in turn compensates for less effective diffusion under unfavorable group composition; and (c) compensating for diffusion barriers that result from a less favorable group climate. Recommendations refer to the improvement of extension prac- tice and directions for future research.

Darr, D. (2008). Effective even when neglected: Farmer groups and the diffusion of agroforestry innovations in rural communities of Eastern Africa. Doctoral Thesis. Fakultät Forst-, Geo- und Hydrowissenschaften. Technische Univerität Dresden.

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